Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots

530: Giant Robots On Tour

June 20th, 2024

Host Will Larry announces an exciting new Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots podcast limited series focusing on Europe, West Asia, and Africa and introduces new co-hosts Sami Birnbaum, Svenja Schäfer, Rémy Hannequin, and Jared Turner! Sami sets a fun challenge for the team to devise a name for the new series by the end of the podcast. The co-hosts engage in an icebreaker game where Sami randomly generates questions for each to answer.

The team members talk about their paths into the tech industry. Jared, Rémy, and Will share stories of discovering their passion for tech, overcoming initial struggles, and finding their niche within the field. They discuss the importance of patience, problem-solving, and continuous learning in their careers. Sami emphasizes the value of realistic expectations and the ability to spend time with complex problems to find solutions.

As the first show progresses, the co-hosts have an amazing time brainstorming potential names for the new series, and ultimately, the team decides on "Giant Robots On Tour" to capture the spirit of exploration and collaboration across different regions. We're excited to keep bringing you this new limited EWAA series! Please subscribe and follow along with us!


WILL: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Will Larry.

And today, we're announcing a new limited series of the podcast focused on the region of Europe, West Asia, and Africa. Please welcome our new co-hosts. Let's start with Sami. Can you introduce yourself?

SAMI: I'm Sami. I'm a developer at thoughtbot based in the UK, in London specifically. And I'm really looking forward to this new Europe, West Asia, and Africa podcast, although we are going to need to come up with a name. We haven't got one yet because we're busy people, and we're consultants the rest of the time. But the plan is to get one.

I don't think there's any quicker way to do it than just for ourselves to come up with one. And so, I think we should do a bit of a challenge here. I think we could say that by the end of this podcast, we'll have a name. I don't know what that's going to be. I don't know what that's going to look like. But we'll go around at the end of the podcast, and we'll see if one of us during this podcast can pick a name for this new series. I'm going to pass on to Svenja. Hey, Svenja.

SVENJA: Hi, Sami. Thank you so much. My name is Svenja. I'm a developer and development team lead at thoughtbot. I live in Spain, more precisely in Almería. It's part of Andalusia. It's all the way in the South of Spain. I'm very excited to be in this podcast. And about the name, I'm also very excited about that. No clue yet. That's it for now from my side. Rémy, do you want to go next?

RÉMY: Thank you, Svenja. I'm Rémy. I'm a software developer at thoughtbot. I joined a little bit more than one year ago. And I'm working from Paris, France. And I'm very excited to join this series. Jared, do you want to go next?

JARED: Yeah. Thanks, Rémy. Hi, my name's Jared. I'm a product manager at thoughtbot. I am originally from Australia, but I live in London. And you're currently hearing me from Scotland. I'm very excited to hear what we're going to discuss over the course of this limited series and to hear what name Sami is about to come up with on this very podcast. Sami, back to you.

SAMI: Yeah. Thanks, Jared. It's great to be doing this with all of you. And formal intros are great, right? So, now everyone kind of knows our position at thoughtbot and where we live. But I was thinking possibly to spice some things up...I've never done a game like this before, so I have no idea where this is going to go.

It's kind of an icebreaker game where I use a random icebreaker generator online. They're not my questions. They're generated by someone else, which makes it even more risky. I'll kind of go to each of you individually with an icebreaker question that I've generated, and you're going to have to answer the question.

You have no idea what's coming. I have no idea what's coming. But it's a great way of other people getting to know kind of more about us in a more informal way, in a way which we might not think about sharing things. I will do you a favor, though; I'll give everyone two skips, okay? So, I'll hit you with a question, and then, if you don't like the question, you can skip the question. But you've only got two skips, so I would say use them wisely. Because if you skip and you get a worse question, you're not going back to the previous one.

Oh, okay, this is interesting. I'm going to start the way we intro'd, just to make it fair. Svenja.

SVENJA: I'm scared. I'm scared [laughs].

SAMI: You should be scared. The best thing about this game is the one who's hosting doesn't get asked the questions. So, Svenja, this is your question. What is a lesson you feel you learned too late in life?

SVENJA: Online banking [laughs]. I don't use online banking for that long. I don't know. I was the last person, I think, who always ran around with cash because I also didn't use credit cards also, so maybe trust in online banking. I'm not sure [laughs] that's a lesson. Sometimes, I probably shouldn't trust in it, but yeah, it would have made my life a little bit easier. Does that count?

SAMI: It definitely counts. I mean, what could be more valuable information to know about Svenja?

SVENJA: [laughs]

SAMI: That she doesn't like online banking. And that's exactly the type of valuable content you will get from the Europe, West Asia, and Africa podcast series, which I hope, in the background, we are all thinking of a name because we cannot just say Europe, West Asia, and Africa series the whole time.

WILL: I have a question, a follow-up. So, how did you do banking? Did you go in every single time, deposit, and withdraw inside the bank?

SVENJA: Yes, actually, well, I did. It was good and kind of not so good because I always needed to go back home because I had one office I was kind of allowed to go to because all the others they didn't know me. And so, I went there; then I did my transfer there. I like to speak to real people [laughs], which is interesting because I always worked remotely, at least the last ten years, I think. But real-life interaction is kind of important to me.

WILL: Yeah, that's neat to know. Okay. Awesome. Awesome.

SAMI: That's cool. Okay, Rémy, I have not hit the generator button yet, so I don't know what's coming. Let's hit it now. Okay, this is interesting. What's something you do to relieve anger or stress?

RÉMY: I have a lot of different activities. I kind of find it hard not to do anything. I don't know if it's a quality or not, but I know I'm always busy. So, if I'm stressed, I just go to the next occupation, you know. So, I like to do bread at home. I like sourdough bread. It smells amazing. It's not that easy, but you're working with living organisms. It's kind of nice. I read a lot of astronomy magazines because I'm deeply in love with astronomy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but I love to play with my daughter. When you're stressed, sometimes it increases the stress depending, but it's always quite fun.

SAMI: That's great. Playing with the kids definitely resonates with me. I've got four of my own, so they keep me busy. Is the sourdough bread is that the one where you have that...I'm going to show how naive I am—my lack of knowledge. You have, like, that starter thing that kind of lives with you.

RÉMY: Yeah, exactly, the sourdough starter. That's actually the most fun part for me so far because you have to start from scratch. I mean, you can start with another starter. But it's quite interesting to just start with water and flour, and then you create something living, and it's a mutual benefit. You feed it, and then it feeds you a little bit later when you bake it in 200 degrees in your oven. It's interesting.

WILL: You said it's a living organism. So, you said that you started with water and flour. So, what introduces the living organism into the sourdough bread?

RÉMY: I lack a bit of the English vocabulary for that. I think it's called yeast. The living yeast on the flour, especially if it's organic, it's just out there, you know, even in the air. And when you just feed it with warm water and, like, a cozy environment, it starts eating the flour, and it develops, and it changes some of the texture and the taste into a lot of things. And then, it's quite powerful for making the bread rise and making a very nice taste and the crust and everything. But I think if I'm correct, Svenja might know a lot more about [inaudible 07:51] bread than me.

SVENJA: I don't. I think the reason you said is because I'm German [laughs]. We love bread, and I absolutely love bread, but I don't have the patience to feed something. I don't have kids. I do have dogs. I do feed them, but they also get sometimes a bit of bread. I was never able to do my own sour bread, unfortunately, because I really love it. And I don't get it around here, which is really sad. So, I will look into that.

SAMI: That's cool. That brings us to Jared. Jared has been waiting patiently for his question.

JARED: Hit me with it, Sami.

SAMI: Let's do it. Oh, okay. If you could kick one person out of this, I'm kidding. I'm kidding. I'm kidding. I'm kidding. That's not, I mean, no, that was just...that's my own. Okay, let me actually do one. What's one characteristic you admire in others, and why?

JARED: Oh, interesting. I think I always appreciate when someone else takes the time to understand someone else's point of view. If that goes a bit meta, like, we live in our own heads so much that it's really nice when someone reflects on how someone else thinks or their point of view. So, that's my one characteristic.

SAMI: That's really interesting. And how have you found, I guess, in the world of consultancy, and when you're working with products, how have you found that's kind of helped you when it comes to the product ownership side of things?

JARED: Well, it's a constant reminder to do it myself; that's for one thing, especially dealing with a lot of different clients and a lot of different people. It's always really important to think about their perspective, their own customers' perspective.

SAMI: That's cool. I'll hand back to Will, but, Will, I'm not just going to hand it back to you for free, right? You're also going to have to do an icebreaker.

WILL: Let's do it.

SAMI: Will, would you rather receive a shout-out from the CEO at a company all-hands meeting or a private word of thanks from them?

WILL: Ooh, I'm usually a private person, so probably private. But I have learned in my leadership, and I've learned this, this is a lesson I've learned: it's like, praise publicly, but then, like, reprimand privately. And so, I think majority of the people like that. But I'm just a private individual person. So, I'm like, just tell me, and I'm okay with that. I don't need everyone else to tell me and to say, "Hey, Will, you did a good job." Because yeah, it just brings pressure and all of that to me. So, I'm more of a private individual. Because also, I can ask more questions then. I can get more detail around like, "Yo, what did you like? Why are you saying a thank you and a shout-out?" So, that's where I'm at.

SAMI: Okay, I'll hand back to Svenja.

SVENJA: Yeah, I think we should give it back to you as well. So, because I am able to open a website, so that's another lesson I learned: how to type it in.

SAMI: [chuckles]

SVENJA: And I do find a question for you. Since nobody skipped, we will remove that option for you, Sami. So, you only get one question and that is, what is one thing we would never guess about you?

SAMI: Oh, I love that. Should I say how much I hate podcasting?

SVENJA: [laughs]

SAMI: No, I'm kidding. I haven't done it enough yet to know if I hate it. Ooh, one thing. That kind of means I've got to reveal something, right? Because you would never guess this thing, and you would never know this thing. So, I am 32 years old, and my intention was never to be a developer, ever.

So, I actually wanted to be a psychotherapist, a cognitive behavioral therapist, to be precise. And I started on a master's course. I did it for six weeks, and then I realized I couldn't handle it. I had placements in a hospital, and the cases that we were dealing with it was too much for me. It was too overwhelming, and I didn't have the skills to kind of handle that as well as my own personal world.

So, at the age of about...I've got to remember what age it was. I think it was about 25 years old, 24, 25 years old. I already had one kid, and I was married with one child. And what am I going to do? My whole plan to be a psychotherapist that I'd done my undergraduate degree to go towards, and now I was on this master's just kind of fell apart.

So, it's like, what's the easiest thing I can do? And that was to learn to code, right [chuckles]? Well, I'd always been good at computers. I'd always been fixing things. I was always the one at home who'd been asked, you know, "There's a problem with this computer." Normally, it was the printer, and I hate printers, but that's for a totally other episode. I could do a whole episode on printers. My one next to me is currently plugged in. I don't use Wi-Fi—Bluetooth with it because it's just not worth it.

But either way, so I wrote my first line of code when I was 25. That was the first time I ever saw code, wrote HTML, and knew what it was. So, I never wanted to be a developer. Here I am all those years later, but it was never a plan, and I've found myself here. But I'm quite happy for it.

SVENJA: That is so interesting and definitely something I wouldn't have guessed.

SAMI: Yeah, it's been one hell of a journey, shall we say, but an exciting one.

SVENJA: I would be super interested how the others of you stepped into the world of tech, so to say.

JARED: Similar sort of thing to Sami in that I've always been interested, always been the sort of more technical, geekier person of the school and the social groups. And then, at uni, I actually took some computer science classes, and then quickly felt very confused and ended up doing a bachelor of commerce in marketing and management instead, which was a lot more straightforward basic business degree, sort of tick some things off. But still, like, throughout all that time, always just loved tech, loved reading about it, loved dabbling.

And I landed a job at a previous company that I just got a lot of freedom to help out where I needed, problem-solve, do lots of different things. It was quite a small business. I was able to level up a whole bunch of different skills, like some technical and some sort of more managerial as well. That's sort of how I got a lot of my knowledge and then moved on from there. How about you, Rémy?

RÉMY: I started in tech right away after high school. So, I had studied...I think we still call it multimedia. It was communication, coding, design, sound, video. I learned how to make step motions, you know, a lot of different things. It was kind of doing everything and trying to find the one thing that you actually like, and I found mine, which was actually coding.

I think I found what I liked when I was in school. I remember struggling on math homework. I don't have a very high background in math, but I used to enjoy it. I remember struggling on some homework, and the sensation when you finally find the answer, and you finally resolve the problem it was amazing. And I felt that again in coding. Like, you have a bug, or you have a feature, and you can't make it. And you try again, and you find some clues, but it doesn't work. And at some point, it works, and you finally made it. And it's an amazing sensation. I had it again, like yesterday. It's quite common. I love that so much. So, I think that's how I decided, okay, that's what I want to do every day.

SVENJA: Thank you so much, Rémy and Jared. What about you, Will?

WILL: Yeah, I think I've told this story before on the podcast, but I always love telling it again. I actually lost my job, and I was really struggling. And if you know me, fashion is not my thing at all, and I was working at this fashion store. It was this clothing store. I hated it. I hated it. Like, there's no shortage on that. I hated it [laughs]. I was working there, and then I also started working at this insurance place. We sold travelers insurance. So, it was very interesting to see how that works. And yeah, I'm not going to say too much about it, but yes, how that works [laughs].

But at that company, the one good thing about it was they were like, as long as you get your work done, you could do whatever you want. And so, one day, I was at home, and my partner was like, "You're struggling. You're just trying to figure out what you're trying to do, and you're struggling." So, she kind of walked me through, like, "What do you want to do?" And I was...when Sami mentioned the printer, I laughed because I was that person also. And printers are tricky because you never know what the real issue is. You just got to tinker with it and hope it works. And yes, you never get the same answer twice, I feel sometimes [laughs].

SAMI: I feel like all our listeners who are kind of really good at fixing printers are thinking like, oh my gosh, I'm going to work at thoughtbot now. I'm going to be an amazing developer one day.

WILL: You could. Why not [laughs]? And it's interesting you say that because, like, I was 29 or 30 whenever I started in the field. So, I was a little bit late, I feel sometimes, to get into development. But my wife, she asked me, "You're struggling. You need to do something because this is not going to work. We got to change it up." And I was like, well, I grew up in a small town in Louisiana, in the south of United States, and we didn't have anything tech there. It was just a rural place. And so I never had the opportunity to learn anything about computers. I guess the printer and stuff just came naturally to me, and this was before YouTube and all of that.

So, she challenged me. She said, "Go and learn it. Go figure it out. Go learn it." I did. And I forgot who mentioned; somebody mentioned something about being easy getting into development. It was not for me. I remember so many times at the coffee shop just, like, I don't know what I am doing. And if you know anything about me, I sometimes don't have the patience to slow down. And so, I came in, and I wanted to be a senior developer and produce like a senior developer. And I was sadly mistaken that that's not how it work. But five years now, I am a senior developer, so I've enjoyed it. I would not change it for anything, and I love it. So, it's been a good change for me, so I love tech.

SAMI: I think it's so helpful to kind of hear realistic expectations about how long it does take. It really is a skill. Some people often ask me, "What is one characteristic that kind of indicates success in the field?" And there isn't just one. But I definitely think that the ability to sit and spend time is so helpful. Because if you can spend time with something and just sit there and, like, be patient, like you were saying, often, you will get to a solution, and it will happen.

But it's about almost slowing yourself down and slowing your mind and your brain down. And we kind of call it in industry, you know, the concept of having a rubber duck, which is also a form of I'm stuck on something. I just need to speak this out, not necessarily with someone who can respond, but in a way that allows me to verbalize slowly what's going on. And you'll be surprised how often you reach a solution. So, that's really interesting.

So, yeah, we've got this great series coming. We have some great guests lined up. The advantage of doing this series over in Europe, West Asia, and Africa is we're going to get access to some guests within our time zones, within our region that this podcast has not been able to get access to before. And so, we are really excited about the people that we're going to bring on, and you're going to get to hear some of the most incredible podcasts that you've heard.

But we don't have a name. We still don't have a name. And I kind of set the challenge at the beginning of this podcast of, well, let's just come up with one. So, who wants to give a shout-out and think about, you know, what this name is going to be? Just to clarify, it's still going to be called the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots podcast, but where you see that kind of title of the individual episode, it will probably have a prefix of kind of the series name just so you know it's from us. Victoria, I feel like you're hiding away somewhere in the background, and I feel like you've got some suggestions up your sleeve.

VICTORIA: Yeah, so I love the name of the podcast. I like when I network, and I usually say that, "I'm, like, the co-host of the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots." So, I want to keep the name to be fun. And maybe it's giant robots in a different action like Giant Robots High-Fiving Other Giant Robots or Giant Robots Without Borders, or something like that. That's what I'm thinking.

SVENJA: I really like the Giant Robots Without Borders. I really like it.

JARED: Sami, you had a good one that I quite liked as well in the spirit of what we've been talking about: Giant Robots On Tour.

SAMI: Oh yeah, Giant Robots On Tour. That makes it sound, to me, like we're just going out and having a really fun time, not like we might not be doing sensible things, but we're going on tour. But that kind of also indicates, you know, what happens on tour stays on tour. And we probably need to be conscious that other people will listen to this. So, we have to maybe, like, tone it down if we are the giant robots who are on tour. But yeah, I like Giant Robots On Tour. This is cool. We're actually going to name our series.

VICTORIA: I do think it would be funny if it was, like, less...I don't want to say less violent, like, Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots, like, Giant Robots Knitting Socks or something, like [laughs], fun, nice, but maybe not as exciting.

SVENJA: Baking Bread Together [laughs].

VICTORIA: Giant Robots Baking Bread actually sounds pretty cool.

WILL: Giant Robots On Tour because it reminded me since we're talking about the different region, the great English rock band, the Beatles. That's what it reminded me of. So, shout out to the UK.

SAMI: Yeah. I actually often drive you know where the Abbey Road studios were? And there's that famous picture of the Beatles on the album cover of where...I don't know which album it is. They're crossing that zebra crossing across the road. There's that picture of all of them. And what you get now is you get loads of tourists. And so, you're trying to drive your car, and they're just hanging out on the zebra crossing, trying to replicate that picture that they had on the album cover. If you're not familiar with what I'm talking about, just Google "Beatles zebra crossing album cover," and you'll get an idea of kind of what I have to face when I'm just trying to drive from A to B sometimes.

VICTORIA: Well, that's also part of, you know, bringing up why we were wanting to have some hosts in the Europe, West Asia, and Africa region, is there's a lot of context and things like calling it a zebra crossing. We call it a crosswalk. And just having more context and connection with our guests who are from that area would be really great.

I don't know if you all saw the pictures, but for the last RubyConf that was in San Diego, I actually made robot costumes out of cardboard boxes. And there's absolutely a picture of me in a giant robot costume sitting on a lounge chair outside in the sun. So, it might be perfect for your series.

SAMI: I think that's a great way to name things, right? Like, if you have a picture that works for a thing, then you have to kind of go with a name like that. Do we vote? How do we come up with it? Is this a democracy? Probably not.

JARED: Well, I think one thing we haven't clarified is that Sami, you're our primary co-host for the European adventure. So, maybe you should get the decider. Should you dictate to us?

SAMI: I feel like it's almost worth it kind of being the primary host just so I get to pick the name. So yeah, sure, I'm going to decide, so it's Sami's Giant Robots is going to be the name of this series. No, I'm kidding. Let's go with...okay, I'm stuck between without borders and on tour. I'm really stuck between those two. So, no one else can see this. I'm going to say, like, hands up if you want without borders. Hands up if you want on tour. Okay. Okay. Okay.

We're going to be calling our new series, with the most exciting guests that you've ever seen, Giant Robots On Tour. You've heard it here first. It's been announced.

WILL: Thank you for joining us. I look forward to the Giant Robots On Tour. I am excited about it. I love that we have the diversity at thoughtbot to be able to have this limited series. So, I'm excited to see what comes out of it. So, I can't wait to check it out. I'll be one of the first listeners on every podcast that comes out.

You can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for this episode at If you have questions or comments, email us at

You can find me on Twitter @will23larry.

This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore. Thanks for listening. See you next time.


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